Monthly Archives: August 2008

My Meez Video: Hip Hop Hijabis

Featuring Poetic Pilgrimage’s “Definition of a Pilgrim”

Inside my head part 2 (random thoughts)

-Having little feet is nice. (I wear a 6 or 6 1/2). I went to Target and bought shoes off the clearance rack for $5 each. Alhamdulillah!

-I’m offically hooked on The Tea Garden. If you love tea and you’re ever in the Twin Cities, I urge you to visit the Tea Garden. My favorite drink is the Jack-fruit shake with Tapioca pearls. Yummy!

-Can I also tell you how much I love yellow dates? I’m normally one of those people who doesn’t like dates. Psychologically, I could not get over the fact that the harder ones resemble South Florida cockroaches. ( I know, I know). HOWEVER, that all changed when I sank my teeth into yellow dates. Now I’m hooked.  I’ve also discovered that brown dates dipped in creme is delicious. (At the halal store here they have an imported Danish creme that goes great with dates).

-I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for Ramadan. Sadly, I’ve been gorging myself on Soca, Dancehall, and R&B because I know I won’t be watching the videos or listening to music as much during Ramadan. (Hey, at least I’m honest with myself…) The point being that I really need to use the time to focus on my spiritual development.

-Speaking of Soca…I came across this video from Krosfyah and I noticed they had a niqabi dancing in the party, lol. I get that the theme was like a United Nations of sorts with people of different backgrounds grooving together. Still, it seems weird to see a niqabi wukking up to Soca. (She’s on 2:41, 3:25, 3:28 and at the end of the video for interested parties). More than likely she’s not Muslim but someone they had “dress like a Muslim.” Anyway, I’m feeling the song…

-Am I the only one who finds it difficult to read while fasting? My level of concentration just isn’t there. Last Ramadan I tried to read The Book of Essential Islam by Ali Rafea and found that I couldn’t really absorb the book’s message. (It’s not exactly easy reading either). I was becoming very frustrated with myself until I realized that the hunger just wouldn’t let me focus on such complex concepts. I think I need to stick to simple books…any suggestions?

An interesting article to add to the hijab debate…

Veils fuel harassment in Egypt, some say

CAIRO – In a Muslim country where the numbers of women wearing the veil are rising, and so – by most accounts – are incidents of groping and catcalls in the streets, the message in ads circulating anonymously in e-mails here in Egypt is clear:

“A veil to protect, or eyes will molest,” one warns.

The words sit over two illustrations, one comparing a veiled woman, her hair and neck covered in the manner known to Muslims as hijab, to a wrapped candy, untouched and pure.

The other picture shows an unveiled woman, hair flying wildly and hip jutting, next to a candy that has had its wrapper removed and is now covered in flies.

No group has claimed responsibility for the online ads, which so far have drawn little attention outside Egyptian blogs.

But the campaign comes at a time of converging debate on two keenly felt issues in Egypt: the growing social pressure on Muslim women to veil themselves and the rising incidence of sexual harassment of women by strangers.

Surprisingly, some Egyptian women say their veils don’t protect against harassment, as the ads argue, but fuel it. A survey released this summer supports the view.

“These guys are animals. If they saw a female dog, they would harass it,” Hind Sayed, 20, a sidewalk vendor in Cairo’s Mohandisseen district, said, staring coldly at a knot of male vendors who stood grinning a few feet from her.

In accord with her interpretation of Islamic law, which says women should dress modestly, Sayed wore a flowing black robe and black veil. They covered all but her hands and her pale face with its drawn-on, expressive eyebrows.

Still, Sayed said, she daily endures suggestive comments from male customers and fellow vendors.

“I think a woman who wears hijab can be more provocative to them,” Sayed said. “The more covered up you are, the more interesting you are to them.”

Zuhair Mohammed, 60, a shopper on the same street who stopped wearing the traditional covering long ago, agreed: “I feel like with the hijab, it makes them wonder, ‘What are you hiding underneath?’ ”

Mona Eltahawy, 41, an Egyptian social commentator who now lives, unveiled, in the United States, said she was harassed “countless times” while wearing hijab for nine years in Egypt. Eltahawy has concluded that the increase in veiling has contributed somehow to the increase in harassment.

“The more women veil the less men learn to behave as decent and civilized members of society,” Eltahawy wrote in an interview via Facebook. “And the more women are harassed, the more they veil, thinking it will ‘protect’ them.”

Female travelers consider Egypt one of the worst countries in the world for harassment on the streets – second only to Afghanistan, where the Taliban forced all women behind the veil and into seclusion in their homes.

The United States and Britain both warn female visitors in travel advisories of possible unwanted attention or sexual attacks in Egypt.

This summer, Egyptian lawmakers called Britain’s advisory a slur; Britain responded that more female British tourists were harassed, assaulted, and raped, while in Egypt than in any other country.

A new survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights makes harassment on the streets appear not a risk but a virtual certainty: 98 percent of the foreign women and 83 percent of the Egyptian women surveyed said they had been sexually harassed in the country.

About half of all the women said they were harassed daily on the streets. Foreign women identified Egyptian policemen and other security officials as the most frequent harassers.

The survey polled 2,020 Egyptian men and women and 109 non-Egyptian women.

Two-thirds of the Egyptian men surveyed admitted to harassing women, in actions ranging from staring openly at their bodies, shouting explicit comments, touching the women, or exposing themselves.


Ramadan Aspirations, Looking Back

Sis Amina posted her Ramadan goals a couple of days ago and I’ve started thinking about mine. (Mashallah, I finally finished making up my fasts from last year). Overall, what I really want is to keep moving forward in my understanding of this deen. I want to successfully implement Islamic practices into my lifestyle and keep them. I want to move to another spiritual level and not find myself trying get back there again come next Ramadan. (Ya, Allah!) Alhamdulillah, I have successfully maintained some of the goals I set for myself last Ramadan. I’m doing all of the Sunnah and Nafl salaah (alhamdulillah), I pray Witr almost every night (mashallah) and I read a little Quran everyday (subhanallah). Goals I haven’t successfully achieved? Reducing my “dunya intake” (less TV, less magazines, less STUFF), praying Tahajjud more frequently, and spending some quiet time doing dhikr.

Needless to say, I will be working on the aforementioned goals from last Ramadan and one new one. So, here are my goals:

(1) Dedicate at least a half an hour per day to the remembrance of Allah (dhikr).

(2) Pray Tahujjud at least twice a week.

(3) Learn at least two new Suras

(4) Reduce my “dunya intake” by replacing it with Islamic activities or self-development activities. (Connects to number 1)

More than anything I want to use the month of Ramadan as time to strengthen my iman. May Allah help us all to achieve our goals. Ameen.

White Privilege and Office Culture

Yesterday I was struck by a profound thought. I realized that I have taken classes related to race, ethnicity, White privilege and institutional racism but haven’t given much thought as to how strongly White privilege features in office culture. In the ten plus years that I’ve worked in office environments I’ve certainly seen my share of overt and subtle racism; it’s been reflected in pay grades, promotions, firings, in a supervisor’s decision as to whether a person is a “good fit” for the organization etc. I asked myself, what about the day-to-day interaction in the office? How does White privilege operate and in what ways? As a person of color, how am I am at a disadvantage? What survival techniques must I employ/adopt in order to stay afloat in today’s office environment?

Though I haven’t given too much thought to White privilege and they way in which it functions in office culture, I have certainly been aware of the fact that I have to wear a mask while at work. It starts with me having to “put on my White voice.” Eventually my demeanor and to some degree- persona- is transformed once I step into the office. I tone down my Jamerican culture (as much as I can any way) and become someone else for 8 hours or more. You may say, all of us transform when we’re at work. All of us “play the game to some degree.” While that is certainly true, people of color who have not fully adopted mainstream White culture must go the extra mile. We must work hard to ensure that we are not perceived (by White co-workers or managers) as threatening, angry, loud, uncooperative, and (God forbid) uneducated or unqualified in any way. In a nutshell, we must work our asses off and at the same time make the White people around us feel comfortable.

Office culture is shaped by White America’s etiquettes, sense of humor, dress, language style and expression and overall perception of the world. Just as Whiteness has been normalized in the larger society, Whiteness has also been normalized in office environments. I’d go as far as saying that office culture is intrinsically White and as a result privileges White people. Some examples:

  • The struggle by some African-American women to wear natural hairstyles such braids, locs, afros, or twists in corporate America. See story here.
  • The unwritten rule that Black men- especially- should not have facial hair. (I am unaware that White men are also expected to have a clean-shaven face in office environments as well). I have heard that Black men with facial hair are perceived as more threatening than those without it. It doesn’t seem to matter that shaving causes some Black men to suffer from a condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae which causes ingrown hairs and rashes to develop on their face. See story here.
  • As a Black woman, when I express any disagreement with a White colleague or supervisor, I am far more likely to be perceived as having an attitude or being negative than a White woman. In fact, I can be perceived that way even when I am not disagreeing with a colleague or supervisor but when I’m merely expressing myself. True story: At my previous job, I was told during a performance evaluation that my response to requests is often negative. When I asked for an example my supervisor mentioned a time when she asked me to attend a function that was on the other side of town. My husband at the time and I only had one car which he generally used because his job was further away than mine. (My supervisor knew this). Anyhow, when she asked me to attend the function I told her that I would not be able to because I did not have transportation. Apparently, I was supposed to lie and tell her that I would see if I could arrange a ride. Since I didn’t do that my response was considered to be negative. (After some time I noticed that my White co-workers, no matter what they were asked, no matter how difficult, or unrealistic the task was, would smile and say yes or would say they’d try- even if they knew they couldn’t.)
  • As person who has been in charge of hiring, I know, all too well the pressure that a person of color can come under when they try to hire another person of color- especially if that person is a friend, relative or acquaintance. (Even though White people do it all the frickin’ time!) Suddenly the person of color’s ability to be fair and impartial comes into question. Sometimes White supervisors interfere with the hiring process by making suggestions about who to hire. True story: There was a Black woman I interviewed who was very qualified for the position. Not only did she give a great interview but she was very confident and strong. I thought she’d be an asset to the program. When I took her around to meet the staff she made the “mistake” (*I’m rolling eyes right now*) of saying to my supervisor and co-workers, “Oh, you’re all girls! That’s wonderful.” When she left my supervisor told me point blank not to hire her. When I recovered from my shock I asked why and I was told (with my co-workers in agreement) that the woman offended them by calling them “girls.” They said it was obvious she didn’t understand the feminist leaning of the organization. I tried to explain that Black women call each other girl all the time and in our culture it is not seen as belittling or derogatory. It’s quite the opposite; it’s a term of endearment. Nonetheless my supervisor said not to hire her and flat out told me she favored having a Latina in the position anyway.

You may ask, why can’t people of color just blend in if that is what they have to do in order to survive? My answer is this: many people of color do exactly that. In fact, some people of color have taken it so far that they can no longer recognize themselves. They have adopted and embraced mainstream White culture to the point where it has become their lifestyle. As a result, they have become disconnected from the culture and community. However, for the rest of us who are either unwilling or unable to do so, it can be emotionally taxing and mentally draining. As mentioned above, not only must people of color work hard not to be perceived as threatening, angry, uncooperative, or unqualified, we must also learn the nuances of White mainstream culture. (Keep in mind when I say ‘learn’ it’s not as if there is a White person teaching us. We must learn White culture through observation, trial and error, and discernment. If the person of color is lucky, they may have a White ally or learn White culture while in college).

In the end, it makes me wonder what companies really mean when they talk about diversity initiatives. Is it a Black or Brown face who has adopted mainstream White culture? A person of color who can “fill the quota” and the same time make White people feel comfortable by never pushing the envelope and discussing issues of race, ethnicity, and cultural difference? It certainly isn’t a person of color who discusses White privilege and discrimination as it relates to the company or organization’s practices. I’ve learned, sometimes in the most painful ways, that so-called White liberals do not want to be reminded of their privilege. It’s enough that I, the person of color, have become employed by the company. They’ve done their job! Now let’s all pretend that we all operate, think and live in the same ways!

If I sound bitter or jaded it’s because I’m tired…

Old School Jam (this was probably made before I was born)

For some reason this song just speaks to me. Like really speaks to me. I feel her pain, her love, the 90% of her that is him. My favorite quote? “Gonna be the kinda woman that no man can move/I wanna have the kinda mind that no man can fool”

Just a Negro, like, Regular Black (a letter for the inquisitive)

August 11, 2008

Dear Nosy Concerned Lady at my Temp Job,

I want to thank you for stopping by my desk and giving me the third degree. I mean, asking a few “harmless questions”. I am aware of the fact that you saw me magically appear in your company’s department one day and you were curious. You saw me all covered up in the headscarf and you assumed so many things about me. Your heart softened when you imagined what it must’ve been like to narrowly escape with my life from a war torn country. You imagined all of the possessions I must’ve left behind or the family members who had been lost in the shuffle or killed. You might’ve imagined me fleeing my family’s compound with nothing but the clothes on my back, trying to escape the inevitable arranged marriage or forced female circumcision.   If you didn’t imagine the aforementioned, you thought about the desert, oil rich country I must’ve come from.  You imagined the controlling, unreasonably strict family who deprived me of the freedoms a grown woman should be allowed to explore. You also imagined my father (and later my husband) forcing me to wear the headscarf you see me wearing  everyday despite the unbelievably hot and humid summer we are experiencing. You felt so sorry for me.

One day you finally worked up the nerve to ask me a few “harmless questions” (all based on your assumptions of course) and discovered that you were completely off the mark. You were surprised by my excellent command of the English language, my level of confidence and ease in an office environment interacting with people from “other cultures”, (you know, Americans) and how very familiar I seemed to you. (And why did I seem so familiar to you? It’s like you’ve grown up around ‘people like me’ or something. Strange!) So you began your third degree- I mean line of harmless questioning- and I watched the disappointment spread across your face as I told you the following: No, I wasn’t from a war torn East African nation, an Arab country, or for that matter any Middle Eastern country. (I purposely saved any discussion of my Caribbean ancestry for another day and another conversation. I didn’t want to confuse you any further). I revealed that I was from the Windy city, good ole Chicago. Home of dah Bears, the White Sox, the Cubs, the best hot dogs this side of the Mississippi, Lake Michigan, and so much more. You were beside yourself. Chicago? Really? Wow!

You started to inquire about my marital status. Yes, I’m married. So you had that one right. You knew it! Women like me are married off early, like in their late teens or something. Arranged, no? I hated to disappoint you again but there it was, the truth trampling all over your certainty. No, actually I met my husband on line like many people are doing today. We were far from arranged. In fact, my family is not Muslim at all. I am the only Muslim in my family. I instantly saw the confusion on your face. “So, you weren’t born into the religion?” you asked as you scratched your head. “No, I converted” I said secretly loving your confusion. Loving the realization as it finally connected, then exploded in your brain.

When you discovered that I was “just another Negro, like, Regular Black” you made one last ditch effort to make sense of my identity, my choices in life. What I was saying did not reconcile with your preconceived notions about who I am. You asked with full confidence in your voice, “Oh you converted when you met your husband, right? He’s from over there!” *Sounds wrong answer buzzer* Wrong again! He’s just another Negro, like, regular Black (just like me.) I hated to disappoint you so. Really, I wanted to be that girl for you. The refugee, the immigrant, the oppressed Muslim woman bound by bizarre (exotic?) customs, the arranged marriage, the desert, the war, all of it. But I can’t change who I am. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, you might want to alter your view of women who “look like me” or share my religion? It would certainly spare you all of the confusion and disappointment.

Instead, I watched you retreat. You wanted to tell your friends about the “real live” Muslim girl from “over there” who recently joined your department. You wanted to provide them with a “real life account” of a Muslim woman’s harrowing, shocking journey to finally be free. You wanted to wow them with the intimate details of my life while they cluck their tongues in horror and exclaim, “That’s terrible!” Unfortunately, I was just a Negro, like, regular Black, who happens to dress like someone from “over there.”  And that’s not really the same thing… Hopefully one day you will find someone who can be all of those things and more. You deserve it!



Jamerican Muslimah